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Who's watching the food?

(article, Kim Carlson)

Food safety is once again in the news, but today it's not a specific recall; it's the general problems we face with our complex food system. '"Mishmash proclaimed an Associated Press feature in this morning's Oregonian business section. 

The gist of the article? 

bq.Peanut butter is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. But chicken potpies are the U.S. Department of Agriculture's responsibility. Frozen cheese pizzas — FDA. But if there's pepperoni on them, USDA has jurisdiction, too.

We've heard about some of this confusion at the federal level before (and especially noted the FDA's budget not keeping up with demand for food inspection, but maybe some of that is about to change.)

In an effort to streamline, the Center for Science in the Public Interest is recommending combining the two agencies into one, but according to today's AP article — predictably perhaps — the FDA and USDA oppose that idea. 

Still, with a new food recall happening nearly every week, most people agree that something should be improved. Discrepancies like these (from today's article) with two ConAgra foods that were recalled in the last year are not reassuring:

bq. Ready-to-eat foods such as peanut butter, which is eaten right out of the jar, receive closer scrutiny because there is greater danger if harmful bacteria are present in those foods. Products such as potpies must be cooked first, and proper cooking kills most bacteria.

As it happens, though, ConAgra's peanut butter didn't receive closer scrutiny:

bq.In the two ConAgra cases, it turns out that an FDA inspector hadn't been to the company's peanut-butter plant in Georgia for two years before the recall; a USDA inspector visits the Missouri potpie plant daily.

Huh. Guess we'll stick to small-scale food — farmers' markets and CSAs — as often as possible and hope for more resources directed toward food safety in the meantime.